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Austin Chronicle Off the Bookshelf

AUGUST 30, 1999: 

End of an Age by Paul Graham (Scalo), $45 hard

If photographer Paul Graham is correct in his affirmation that the "best of time is always now," that's only because he's probably slinking around some dark German disco at this very moment, snapping candid photos of sexy young revelers. The sweaty, cigarette-wielding socialites he presents in his collection End of an Age are living on somber verges: The techno music is about to end, tomorrow morning is fast on its way, and so, finally, is adulthood. The constant themes of Graham's photos -- eerie redeye, solemnity tucked away amid chaos, the ritual hunt for sex -- elevate seemingly banal boys and girls to nearly mythic symbols of some of life's most weighty topics. Most importantly, the pensive subjects seem stoically self-aware of their potential for beauty. The implied tragedy of these lives, though, and the likely failure of the subjects to build on this fleeting potential make Graham's series of images a compelling surprise. --David Garza

A Certain Age by Tama Janowitz (Doubleday), $23.95 hard

Tama Janowitz's A Certain Age is one of those novels that tries to pass off heavy-handed cynicism as witty satire. With a structure loosely cribbed from Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Janowitz spins the tale of the lamentable Florence Collins, a 32-year-old beauty and good time girl who is frantically searching for a rich husband in the wilds of Manhattan. Needless to say, Lady Luck never smiles upon Florence. She gets mixed up with some of the nastiest creatures to ever lurk the Hamptons. Everyone's a mover and a shaker willing to move and shake the hapless Florence for their own nefarious means. It's tremendously hard to care for the nasty caricatures Janowitz throws at the reader, including poor Florence. Janowitz also shows little grasp of the intricacies of Wharton's original tragic satire and only an intermittent talent for screwball comedy. A Certain Age may yield certain occasional pleasures (nice descriptions of Florence's wardrobe, for example), but it's mainly a heavily confected literary dud. --Stacy Bush

Zen Computer by Philip Toshio Sudo (Simon & Schuster), $22 hard

A fundamental component of Zen philosophy is the too-familiar yin-and-yang concept of balance and harmony. The comparison between yin-and-yang and the binary chatter of computers is a tempting one, and is the fodder for Philip Toshio Sudo's simplistic Zen Computer: Mindfulness and the Machine. Sudo lists the instructions for his "Zen Computer" and a basic overview of many Zen concepts, and then breaks down a modern PC into components for use in analogies, koans, or anecdotes. It's a perfectly reasonable task to attempt; the "dining philosophers" problem of mismatched Zen masters and chopsticks is as old a joke in the computing community as "the sound of one hand clapping" is to the koan crowd. Sadly, Sudo's motives may be pure, but his implementation is sloppy. His introduction to Zen philosophy reads as elegantly as any haiku, but the second section of the book's component koans degrade quickly from witty to banal. --Matt Williams

Sciborg Sam and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Alexander Uriostegui, $14.95 paper

The spirit behind Sciborg Sam is probably the only redeemable thing about this self-published creation that should have stayed a sheaf of loose-leaf pages stacked in Uriostegui's desk drawer. The plot, which excruciatingly details the exploitations of a half-man/half-machine Sam and a duo of hapless spies, is never quite funny or smart enough to be a satire of the science fiction genre. The loosely (very loosely) fleshed-out characters make you almost wish that this were a graphic novel, but then you would see just how insulting Uriostegui is to women and anyone of color -- which could be forgiven if there were a point to it, but, unfortunately, there isn't. But Sam is good for three things: a reminder that you can always publish your own damn book, a lesson in the importance of "show, don't tell," and a primer on the value of a good copy editor.--Adrienne Martini

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